Today's been-there, done-that travelers crave new experiences. In the last six years, adventure travel has grown 6 percent to 8 percent annually, according to the Salina, Colo.-based Adventure Travel Society — and 82 percent of the respondents in Insurance Conference Planner's recent insurance agent survey expressed interest in upscale adventure travel. But while most people think of adventure travel in terms of challenging physical activities, incentive adventures can be something quite different, says Helen Nodland, whose Chicago-based company, Nodland Travel Enterprises, mounts educational programs in exotic locations. She defines incentive adventure travel as a balance “between a good deal of comfort and a variety of opportunities in the physical world or in the intellectually challenging world.”
Jim Skiba, director of Incentives to Intrigue, a San Francisco incentive house, says that many physical activities can be toned down for incentive groups. “When I think of soft adventure, I think of something connected with ecology or the environment, or getting more exercise than you might sitting by the hotel pool,” says Skiba. White-water rafting, for example, has a reputation for danger, but in reality, “level-three white water means participants are sitting on the raft and paddling occasionally.” On the other hand, activities perceived as safe might not be. “Someone hiking even on a flat trail can twist a knee,” he notes.
Skiba says it's important for a corporate group to offer a variety of activities to accommodate attendees with varying fitness levels. He suggests having incentive winners complete detailed health questionnaires to make sure they're up to any physical challenges.
Here are five upscale adventure options — selected by the editors of ICP — as particularly appropriate for your “been-there, done-that” top producers who expect a heavy dose of luxury with their adventure experience.
Explora in Patagonia, Chile
The Explora resort combines a breathtaking outdoor setting with the comfort of deluxe accommodations. In the remote Patagonia region of Chile, surrounded by dramatic mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, Explora offers such amenities as gourmet cuisine, spa treatments, and distinctive architecture. Nodland has taken corporate groups to Explora and calls the property “off the planet” in terms of the level of luxury it provides in such a remote destination.
Group size: up to 60
Getting there: Daily flights on Lan Chile from Los Angeles, New York, and Miami take 10, 9, and 8 hours, respectively. A four-hour flight to Punta Arenas follows, then a five-hour drive to the resort.
Prime time: “Weather in Patagonia is unpredictable. You can experience four seasons in one day,” says Daniela Orellana, a spokeswoman for the resort. But weather in Chile is not extreme at any time of the year.
Target attendees: Savvy and educated baby boomers, “those who enjoy being outdoors but will never give up a good glass of wine,” Orellana says. The hotel offers 21 expeditions classified by level of difficulty.
Precautions/special needs: Passport, endurance for the journey to the hotel
Activities: Hiking the glaciers, spa treatments, swimming in the resort's lap pool, a gaucho barbecue, horseback rides, mountain biking, trekking, photo safaris
Contact: (800) 858-0855; email@example.com
King Pacific Lodge, British Columbia
King Pacific Lodge, a member of the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts group, offers a remote and luxurious retreat with helicopter adventures, marine wildlife cruises, fishing, a full-service spa, and gourmet dining.
Group size: From 16 to 30; most corporate clients buy out the lodge.
Getting there: Vancouver is the gateway, easily reached from most U.S. cities. Flights on Air Canada from Vancouver to Prince Rupert leave early Mondays and Fridays and return late on the same days. A floatplane picks up guests and brings them to the lodge, a total travel time of about two and a half hours from Vancouver. Many groups charter planes from Vancouver; the floatplane service is part of the lodge's package price.
Prime time: King Pacific Lodge has only one season, from late May to early October. Visitors interested in catching king salmon should arrive in May or June, but September is the best time for viewing bears.
Target attendees: High-level management groups or senior sales staff interested in a moderately challenging physical program
Precautions/special needs: Passport recommended. Two pieces of valid ID required. Because of the remote location of the lodge, it has its own helicopter fleet available to take people to medical facilities, a 45-minute flight away.
Activities: Daily guided helicopter excursions for hiking, fly-fishing, kayaking, and beachcombing; marine wildlife, sunset, and evening cruises; yoga sessions; aromatherapy massage; fishing tournaments; wilderness scavenger hunts; adventure races; survivor games; and aqua golf
Contact: (888) 592-5464; www.kingpacificlodge.com
Kapawi Ecolodge, Ecuador
Cited as “one of the top five luxury ecotourism resorts in South America” by Concierge.com, Kapawi Ecolodge occupies a spectacular site in the tropical rain forest. The lodge resulted from a partnership between the Achuar Indians and a private company, Canodros S.A. Sun-heated showers, biodegradable soaps, and trash recycling are among the ecologically sensitive practices at the resort. Dining choices include Ecuadorian and international specialties.
Group size: up to 20
Getting there: Several U.S. airlines offer service to Quito, Equador, including American and Continental. Flights from Houston take six hours, while those from Miami take about four and a half hours. The lodge is two hours away via small planes from Quito, followed by a 90-minute canoe trip.
Prime time: It rains year-round in this part of the world, but the wettest months are February to May.
Target attendees: Active travelers interested in ecology and willing to put up with some inconvenience for an authentic, once-in-a-lifetime cultural and wildlife experience
Precautions/special needs: Passport, anti-malaria medication, and insect repellent. The small planes from Quito require limiting luggage to 30 pounds per person.
Activities: Programs can be arranged for three, four, or seven nights and include easy, moderate, and strenuous options with visits to the native communities, hikes in the rain forest, canoeing, and bird-watching.
Contact: 5934-285711 (in Ecuador); www.canodros.com
Abano Terme Spa Town and Hotel Ritz, Italy
In northeast Italy, 25 miles from Venice, Abano Terme is known for its waters and mineral-rich muds. In town, the Hotel Ritz has its own spa and maintains an old-world European flavor, with many guests still dressing formally for dinner. A weeklong cultural adventure combines a five-star spa and cooking experience with various excursions.
Group size: 15 to 20
Getting there: Fly into Venice, about six hours from eastern U.S. gateways, then a 40-minute ride to Abano Terme and the Hotel Ritz
Prime time: Spring and fall are the best times to avoid crowds. “August is out, as all of Italy is shut down,” says John McKeon, vice president of sales for iExplore, which organizes the trips.
Target Attendees: Top incentive winners who have done more typical programs and are seeking something different. Participants tend to be 40 to 50 years old, adventurous in spirit but seeking good food and pampering rather than a big physical challenge.
Precautions/special needs: Passport
Activities: Gourmet cooking lessons featuring local cuisine; European spa treatments; tours of historic Verona; tour of Bassano del Grappa, a grappa-producing town; bicycling.
Contact: (800) 439-7567, ext. 134 or www.iexplore.com
Middle Fork River Expedition, Idaho
The operators of this wilderness adventure call it “luxury camping:” Fishing, white-water rafting, kayaking, hiking, bathing in soothing hot springs, and even luxuries such as massages are all part of this experience on a scenic Northwest river. “The biggest decision participants have to make at the end of the day is what cocktail they're going to have,” says Jean Ridle, owner of the company that operates the tour.
Group size: Up to 24
Getting there: Southwest, United, Delta, Northwest, and Alaska Airlines serve the nearest airport, in Boise, Idaho, which is a 45-minute ride in a small plane from Stanley, Idaho, where trips begin and end.
Prime time: Summer. June brings the most exciting white water, July and August have warmer weather and water, and fishing improves throughout the summer.
Target attendees: Typical age range is 30 to 65, and all fitness levels
Precautions/special needs: None
Activities: White-water rafting, fishing, kayaking, wildlife exploration. A six-day trip runs the 100-mile length of the river; a three-day trip is also an option. Participants can go all out physically and paddle their own kayaks or choose to relax and let the oarsmen do the work.
Contact: (800) 801-5146; www.idahorivers.com
Adding a Taste of Adventure
There are many ways to incorporate a day or half-day of adventure into a standard incentive trip. In April, Lincoln Financial Advisors in Hartford, Conn., brought 700 managers and guests to the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix for a five-day program that added four-wheel-drive desert tours, horseback riding, and float trips into the usual golf-and-spa schedule. “Incentive programs are typically for salespeople who are very driven. Everyone wants to do something that they can go home and talk about,” says Angela Hofford, a national sales manager for PRA Destination Management, who organized the activities. Since September 11, says Hofford, she has fielded more requests for out-of-the-box adventure activities for incentive groups that have switched from international to domestic sites. There is a push to do something even more special in this circumstance, she says.
Domestic adventure travel day trips don't necessarily mean out-of-the-way locations: Many urban areas offer a wealth of possibilities. San Francisco-based incentive planner Jim Skiba suggests kayaking or windsurfing classes or even working with a local urban renewal group to plant trees. Lois Pendleton, national account manager with PRA Destination Management in Seattle, says a Seattle-based group can easily fly a sea plane to San Juan Island and ride bikes past groves of madrone trees, herds of goats, and an old limestone quarry, then break for a box-lunch picnic at a historic camp.
It's also easy to set up adventurous day trips and overnights in Canada. Summer visitors to Banff, Alberta, can hike the Columbia Icefields, go white-water rafting on the Kicking Horse River, and float down the scenic Bow River. For an out-of-the box winter activity in Banff, there's dog sledding. The Haliburton Highlands, 90 minutes from Toronto, contains a half-mile forest canopy walk 65 feet above the forest floor that gives visitors an eye-level peek at bird nests.
Tips for Planning Adventures
Adventure Travel Society (www.adventure travel.com/ats) provides links to companies that organize adventure travel
Specialty Travel Index (www.specialtytravel.com) lists hundreds of operators, arranged by interest and location
Iexplore (www.iexplore.com), affiliated with National Geographic, offers hundreds of adventure travel packages
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/travel/) provides health guidance for trips outside the U.S.
U.S. State Department (http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html) lists traveler advisories
The World Outdoors (www.theworldoutdoors.org/) offers resources for active adventure travel
1-World Adventures (www.1worldadventures.com/luxurytravel.htm) provides links to luxury adventure operators around the world
GORP Travel (www.gorp.com) outlines 3,000 adventure trips designed for active travelers